This week, I’m discussing one of the most crucial elements of the book publishing process and that is your book’s cover design. Before a single word of your book is consumed, readers will form an impression of it through its cover. A book with an amateurish, confusing or dull jacket design sends a subliminal signal to the reader that the book itself may have been poorly thought out or carelessly put together. But a smart, attractive design conveys a sense of excellence and seriousness, as well as telling the reader something about the subject matter inside. Let’s face the harsh reality, we all judge a book by its cover and the difference between amazing sales and crickets can very well be lying in your cover design. According to book designer and art director Peter Cocking, “A successful book cover is both an advertisement for the book and a beautiful object all on its own.” Personally, I believe books covers are not only marketing tools, but incredible works of art. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at some tips to make your book cover pop.
A good book cover generates sales
In order to make a good book cover, it’s important to first understand its purpose. A cover exists primarily to entice potential readers to buy the book. It’s a sales tool. It has to relay information about the book in a way that grabs potential readers and inspires them to investigate further. It doesn’t have to tell everything about the story or provide the illustrator’s unique viewpoint like an editorial illustration. It simply must represent the story in a way that generates interest and curiosity and ultimately leads to sales. If the book cover doesn’t do that—no matter how beautiful it may be—it’s failed on a very significant level and is doomed to be repackaged later.
It communicates a variety of things
A good book cover gets across a lot of information quickly. To be successful, it must communicate:
The genre- Is it fantasy? Crime? Coming-of-age? Etc. The cover has to convey the genre so the marketplace understands immediately.
The audience- Who is the book aimed at? Whether it’s boys ages nine to fourteen or women over fifty who are into My Little Pony, the cover must address and be appropriate for its intended audience.
The tone- How does the book feel? Is the story edgy and hip? Suspenseful? Laugh-out-loud funny? Whatever the tone, a great cover must convey it.
What the book is about- While a book cover doesn’t need to be entirely specific (sometimes it’s better to be mysterious), it has to at least allude to the story to come in some significant way.
A successful book cover grabs people on a first look. It’s competing against thousands of other covers in an overcrowded marketplace and only has seconds to capture a potential reader’s attention before they’ve moved on to another title. To do this, a cover must focus on one main compelling idea rather than trying to squeeze in every little detail. And it must be able to hold up at very small sizes. After all, since most books are shelved spine-out in stores, the majority of covers are seen as online thumbnails on sites like Amazon or IndieBound. If you’ve failed there, you’ve lost a huge part of your audience.
Don’t design your own cover
The only people who should consider designing their own covers are professional graphic designers—and even then, it’s not advisable. Admittedly, I have seen some independent authors produce some great covers, but this is extremely rare.
Use contrast wisely
Book covers without contrast can be monotone in color, weak in the fonts chosen and how they are used or have very busy backgrounds that distract attention from the main communication. Using contrast wisely with colors, fonts, and combined elements will clarify your message.
Think like a reader, not like a writer
Cover images and text must be clearly understood as thumbnails, which is how more books are being sold today. If you cannot discern the image or read the text in the size it would be shown on one of the online bookstores, like Amazon or Kobo, then the reader won’t be able to, either. Covers need to make a reader ‘feel’ something rather than ‘tell’ them something.
A good book cover stands apart from the other books in its category. While it shouldn’t be entirely out of left field for the audience (remember, you have to appeal to buyers with expectations and preconceived notions of the genre), it needs to establish itself as something unique on the shelves. This can be achieved through style and technique but it can also be achieved by playing up the “hook” of the book on the cover. By “hook”, I’m referring to the thing that makes this book different. For instance, there may be a billion detective stories in the world, but if yours is the only one about a drug-addicted clown who’s attempting to solve the murder of his magician best friend, that definitely seems like something that should be played up.
Do not use any of the following fonts (anywhere!)
Comic Sans or Papyrus. These fonts are only acceptable if you are writing a humor book, or intentionally attempting to create a design that publishing professionals will laugh at. While we’re at it, no font explosions! (And avoid special styling.) Usually a cover should not use more than 2 fonts. Avoid the temptation to put words in caps, italics caps, outlined caps, etc. Do not “shape” the type either.
Avoid garish color combinations
Sometimes such covers are meant to catch people’s attention. Usually, it just makes your book look freakish. Additionally, do not use cheap clip art on your cover. I’m talking about the stuff that comes free with Microsoft Word or other cheap layout programs. Quality stock photography is OK.
The design should communicate clearly, so that the essence of the cover can be understood quickly–at a glance, ideally. There should be just one idea underpinning the design, and the design shouldn’t obfuscate that idea.” The simpler a cover is, the easier it will be for readers to understand it and decide if the book is for them.
So, there you have it. The keys to great cover design. Creating a successful book cover takes a lot of work. But if you can approach it from a buyer’s perspective that will help immensely. After all, the cover is ultimately a sales tool. By remembering it’s goal, addressing the audience, and crafting something unique and immediate that stands apart in the marketplace, you can greatly improve your covers. Use these tips to help you craft a winning book cover that you can be proud of. And, when you’re done, come back and share it with me. I’d love to see it!